Review 1804: Beheld

In the Afterword to Beheld, TaraShea Nesbit says she wrote it because she wanted to hear the women’s voices she missed in reading about Plymouth Colony. Certainly, the voices we hear in the novel are mostly those of the women or the dispossessed.

Beheld focuses on some of the stories we never heard about Plymouth, particularly the divide between the Puritans and the other residents—indentured servants, farmers, carpenters, and the other people meant to do the work and who do not share the Puritans’ beliefs.

Alice Bradford is the second wife of the governor, William Bradford. His first wife was her beloved friend Dorothy. But Dorothy died upon her arrival in Plymouth under circumstances Alice doesn’t understand, and shortly after Alice’s own first husband died, William sent for her to be his wife.

John and Eleanor Billington signed contracts to work for seven years as indentured servants in exchange for a parcel of land for each male in their family in the proposed colony in Virginia. But first the Puritans’ boat The Speedwell sprung a leak and the Puritans forced themselves onto The Mayflower. Then the boat went north to Massachusetts instead of Virginia. The Puritans took charge of the colony, not allowing the same rights to other men, not allowing anyone but themselves to trade with the natives, giving themselves the best parcels of land, and finally cheating John out of his son’s parcel.

This is an interesting novel that depicts the Puritans as self-righteous and self-serving. Of course, most of us who have studied this period and place since grade school know this, but perhaps not how much. Miles Standish is shown as greedy and violent. I felt this novel was quite eye-opening.

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Review 1378: Widdershins

Widdershins presumably takes place in the 17th century, when Puritan elements began to go after the local wise women and midwives and accuse them of witchcraft. The novel follows two characters, John, who was raised by his mother’s midwife after her death, and Jane, whose mother is a midwife.

When John is a boy, he is sent to live with his uncle, a woman-hating Puritan. He casts off his affection for his foster mother and begins to imbibe his uncle’s beliefs. As Jane approaches womanhood, she is being taught midwifery and the use of herbs by her midwife mother and Mag, a wandering wise woman. She also falls in love with her best friend, Tom.

It’s clear from the beginning that these two characters are on a collision course. However, for me, it was taking too long to get there. I’m not a reader who requires a lot of action from a novel, but I do require something. I didn’t find these characters particularly compelling, and when I reached the halfway point, I decided to stop.

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